Chapter 7: Cosmic Love

And in the dark, I can hear your heartbeat
I tried to find the sound
But then it stopped and I was in the darkness
So darkness I became

Three and a half months ago

Carley pressed her back against the grimy wall of the back alley she had somehow woven into, allowing her adrenaline to ease out of her system. Her fingertips scratched against the ridges behind her, her ears traced the screams resonating from somewhere in the distance, her heart slammed into the cage of her chest. She trembled in her own skin as tears slid down her cheek in rivulets, dripping from her chin, soaking into her thin shirt.

This isn't happening this isn't happening this isn't happening—

She had come for a simple story. She was trapped by the truth. Her news van had been shredded by the undead – walking corpses eager for flesh, something so surreal it had only ever existing in movies. But she had been in the center of the fray; the heart of the outbreak tearing the city apart at the seams. All she was supposed to do was cover the story – she was only supposed report the damn story.

This isn't happening this isn't happening this isn't happening—

And then he arrived, a lonely repairman who had been strolling along only half an hour before the dead swarmed the streets of the city. He had saved her – not anyone else, just me. They didn't make it – from her fate, cheating death in a fray of blood, bravery, and an aluminum bat from the spots store cross the street. He had just been passing through… and now she owed him her life.

This isn't happening this isn't happening this isn't happening—

Sobs slipped from her cracked lips as familiar hands gripped her shoulders. "Hey, ssh, ssh. Calm down, Car. Sssh."

Carley fell into his chest, roping her arms around his chest. "What's happening Doug? Why is everyone dying?"

"Ssh, it's OK… It'll be OK…" Doug soothed her chocolate hair, noting the airy texture and the elegant dip of her neck. "It's OK… We'll get through this together. We have to get through this. Everything will be OK."

"How do you know?" She whimpered, clutching his shirt. "How do you know we'll be OK?"

"Because I won't let them get you."

This isn't happening this isn't happening this isn't happening—

Doug peeked around the corner of the alley, keeping track of the scattered undead around the street. There was a store glaring him in the face – Everett Pharmacy. As far as he was concerned there was a safe haven, and he would get them across without so much as a single scratch. He had saved her now, and if he wasn't careful they wouldn't be together long… he had to keep them both safe for as long as he could, and no one would stop him.

Because, when it all really came down to it, it was all about surviving.

This isn't happening this isn't happening this isn't happening—

Mark was up ahead of the group, his rifle slung over his shoulder and his footfalls crippling the leaves beneath him. Overhead the azure sky was painted with cotton clouds, casting an almost surreal feel across the autumn landscape. He hadn't enjoyed the sky since the last time he flew a jet – exactly four hours before the first Walkers stumbled into the air strip. The realization that he was still alive was enough to get him to break into song and half-dance.

Carley's eyebrow twitched as Mark successfully performed a moonwalk that could have turned Michael Jackson green with envy. "What's gotten into him?"

"Think Lilly's craziness is rubbing off on him?" Ben whispered, afraid that if he spoke too loud Mark would shoot him in the knee cap – yes, knee cap, because crazy people didn't like to go for the kill right off the bat. Ben had never trusted anyone who looked like they were fresh out of, or badly needed to be in, a nuthouse.

The thinner of the men from the farm chuckled. "Well, at least his voice isn't half bad."

"I give him credit," Carley remarked, touching her throat, "my voice is awful."

Lee glanced at her in disbelief. "How awful could it possibly be?"

"Let's just say… if air could break, it would shatter."

"I'm gonna trust you on this and not ask for an example." He averted his attention onto the strangers. "So, we haven't been properly introduced. I'm Lee."

One man scoffed. "Jeez, where are my manners? I'm Andy! And that's my brother Danny!" Danny gave them a half-salute. "We live on our farm with our Mamma. How many of you were back there, anyway?"

Lee contemplated his answer. He could have been honest, admitted to eleven, or he could avoid the question. Lilly would have denied answering that question entirely; Kenny would have told the truth. "Ben here is one of our newest recruits," he said after several seconds of contemplating the best answer. The teen beamed at them at the mention of his name. "Found him in the woods with his friend."

The corner of Andy's lips twisted into a smile. "You must be in charge then."

"Well, not quite, why would you assume that?"

"You did make the call to make the exchange. Isn't that what leader's do?"

Lee opened his mouth to reply – but then it hit him with all the gracefulness of a careening elephant. Lilly had wanted him to make the call for a reason: to keep low, quiet, and to keep Andy and Danny from becoming aware of just how many people were in the motor inn. It seemed like a failsafe plan just in case anything went awry, or if Andy and Danny weren't really who they were claiming to be… Lee really hoped it wasn't the latter.

"It's kind of a democracy," Lee replied carefully, "sometimes I step up to the plate, but usually someone else does. Not everyone sees eye-to-eye a majority of the time, but we get along when can't find anything to argue about."

By the satisfied expression on Andy's face Lee knew he had chosen his words wisely. "Seems like you guys have it under control! We only have one other farmhand left; lost most of 'em after the dead started eating everybody. A good portion of our cattle were killed, too."

"I'm sorry," Carley said sympathetically.

"No apologizes needed miss," Danny remarked, kicking up some stray brittle leaves, "we still have more than enough to survive until this all blows over."

"If it will," Lee retorted, forcing the image of his zombified brother to return to the darker corners of his mind. "And even if it does, nothing will be the same. Who knows how far this contagion has spread?"

"Hopefully not that far," Ben muttered, clutching the handle of the plastic gas container nervously.

Mark, still ahead of them, froze like a deer in the headlights. "Everyone get down!" He ducked behind a small patch of land that was too small to be classified a hill; the others joined him without so much as a complaint. Mark pressed his forefinger to his lips – ssh – and gestured over the mound. Gradually six heads rose to curiously peer over, and Carley silently aimed her pistol for the two men arguing nearby.

The two guys were clad in rags like bandits, confirming Kenny and Lilly's suspicions about spotting people in the woods that were too quick to be Walkers. Mark squinted into his scope, taking aim at the closest male –

"FUCK YOU!" Gun shots pierced that closest male's torso and a moment later he impacted the bed of leaves beneath him. His apparent cohort put another rifle bullet between his eyes and grunted, expelling a glob of spit at the limp body. "Asshole." He whirled around and stomped off, grumbling a line of obscenities only Carley could make out. For almost a minute the group sat in dumbfounded, awe-struck silence.

And then there was panic.

"What the hell was that?!"

"Kenny was right about the bandits!"

"Were those really bandits?"

"They looked like it."

"You can't reach a conclusion based off an assumption, Mark!"

"Guys I wanna go back now…"

"Shut up Ben!"

Lee whistled, cutting everyone off. "Ease up! It doesn't matter if they were bandits or not, we need to get to the farm! Those gun shots most likely earned the attention of nearby Walkers. I don't know about you, but I'm not in the mood to become lunch, thank you very much."

"Lee's right," Danny voiced, "let's get you folks back to our place. At least it's safe there."

Lee sighed quietly. You had better be right… If this farm isn't safe for Clementine, I don't know what will be.

Clementine had always wanted an older sibling. For the longest time she heard her friend talk about his annoying little brother or sassy older sister, respectively, and every now and then she would make inquiries to her parents about adding another member to their family – preferably a sister. On several occasions her mother would tell her, gently, "OK sweetheart, we'll think about it." After about two years her father finally told her, not so gently, "No honey, your mother and I can't give you a sibling. We wish we could, but we can't." And that was the end of that.

"What are you drawing?"

Clementine etched a stick figure into her paper with a dull yellow crayon. Across from her Travis was sprawled out on his stomach, playing with a pebble he had found lying around somewhere. The rock rolled smoothly between his cracked finger tips, smearing ash across the surface of his skin. His chin was rested in the crook of his elbow. Clementine noted the almost hallow look in his eyes, though, an obvious contradiction to his upbeat tone. "My parents… and my sister."

Travis titled his head quizzically. "You have a sister?"

"No…" She shrugged passively. "I wish I had a sister. I've always wanted one!"

Travis allowed the twitch his lips to upturn into a smile. "I had a sister: Laura. She was twelve years older than me, and she already had a family of her own." There was a noticeable twinge of pain in his expression. "Her nine-year-old son is named Chris. He's real quiet, kind of like you, but he likes to think he's cool. Every time I had to babysit him he liked to stay up as late as possible, you know, like the cool kids." His smile faded. "After high school Laura moved to Atlanta…"

"Is she OK?" Clementine asked curiously, returning to her drawing.

Travis's dual-chromatic stare connected with something over Clementine's shoulder. When she went to look, however, nothing was there. "Don't know," he said finally, but an usual abrasiveness in his tone told Clementine that he was lying.

They collapsed into an awkward silence that lingered for several moments.

"So I guess we're only children now, huh?" Clementine concluded, heart sinking in her chest. Travis glanced at the girl almost sympathetically. Her amber gaze disconnected from her drawing and she exchanged the yellow crayon for a black one. She streaked a dark line right across the page. "Why do you keep looking over my shoulder like that?"

"Like what?"

"You keep looking at something!" She stared around. "No one's there!"

"I have every right to peek around as I so choose to, little lady."

"And why do you keep calling me little lady?"

Travis barked a laugh and flicked the pebble in her direction. "My mother was an English teacher. I picked up on her speaking habits, it seems." He quirked an eyebrow when her face contorted in irritation. "What, don't like being called little?"

"If I'm little lady than you have to be big brother." Clementine noticed Travis' hesitation and rebounded with a triumphant smirk. "You can be my big brother and I can be your little sister! If we can't have siblings, then we'll just have to be our own siblings! And we'll take care of each other as any family should."

Travis' cracked lips parted to make a comment, but Kenny's abrupt whistle cut him off. His gaze darted over towards the barrier where the older man was gesturing for him to come over. With a small sigh Travis forced himself to stand – stumbling only a little as dizziness set in, something brought on by the lack of an intake of food – and traversed the lot. "What's up?" He chirped and allowed his lips to quirk into a failed attempt at a comfortable smile.

Kenny noticed Travis' hetero-colored orbs shift to something over his shoulder before returning abruptly to meet his quizzical stare. Brushing the acute weirdness of the teen from his mind, Kenny flipped out a screwdriver. "We need to make sure you're capable of servin' your worth if you're gonna be stayin'. There's a Walker outside"—he inched the barrier door open and Travis peered through the crack—"take this screwdriver and stick it in its eye."

Travis noted the features of the corpse shambling across the road: dishwater blonde hair matted with grime, leaves and stained blood. Her dark blue sweater was as shredded as her jeans from the constant pull on branches and fumbling in the underbrush. There was an arrow sticking out of her chest.

Sarah. Panic set in and he reeled back from the division. "No! No I can't!"

"Look Kid, this ain't up for discussion! Stick this in her brain or risk getting kicked out with that friend of yours!" The screwdriver was shoved forcefully into his grip. Travis felt rough hands grip his shoulders and Kenny shoved him outside. He felt particularly exposed for no real reason, although the fact that he wasn't alone eased his adrenaline rush. "Just one jab to the eye socket, that's all."

Travis swallowed the rock in his throat and clutched the screwdriver against his chest in trembling fingers. Sarah faced them when she picked up on the sound of Travis' sneakers sliding across rubble on the sidewalk. Her milky gaze scanned him over blindly, seeing only an offering of food rather than her friend. As Travis drew closer, Kenny's grip slipped from his shoulders and the scent of rancid meat hit Travis' nostrils. He bit back bile as the dizziness returned. It's OK it's OK it's OK…

Sarah staggered towards him, her arms outstretched, her lips peeling back to reveal blackened teeth. Gradually she came within striking distance of the opposing teen who was fumbling with his pathetic weapon.

"Kill it!" Kenny snapped, clearly irritated that Travis was taking longer than he wanted.

"I will!" Travis shot back and found his grip on the tool. He stepped forward, forcing his knees to stiffen and his hands to stop shaking. Still his body quaked under the surge of fear from being so close – get a grip Travis! Be like Dad! You're strong. You're fearless. Oh shit you're about to die! Sarah lunged for him but he promptly stepped out of the way. You are strong. You are fearless. You are brave. You can do this. You can do this. You can do this!

This time, when Sarah lunged again, he wedged the tip of the screwdriver into her left eyes, slicing through her nerves into her brain. Sarah jerked before dropping like a sandbag, impacting the pavement with enough force to crack her skull. Travis allowed himself to catch his breath, easing out of his adrenaline rush. The dizziness slapped him again – he hurled up his stomach contents, sluicing acids across the concrete walkway.

Kenny approached with a slight smirk plastered on his face. "You must have the weakest damn stomach I've ever seen!"

"Ya think?" The teen hissed bitterly, dabbing the drool from his lips with his sleeve.

The underbrush rustled from across the street. Instinctively Kenny flipped out his gun, training the nose on the jittery bush; Travis pried the screwdriver from Sarah's skull and raised it defensively in front of him (his attempt at being a badass, apparently).

"Ah! Don't shoot!"

"He's not going to shoot you, Ben." Carley emerged from the tree line first, her fingers grasping a decorative basket, and Ben followed shortly after with his hands still up in submissive defeat. "Put the gun down Ken. We're not going to eat your face off or anything."

Kenny slipped his pistol back into his belt. "Can't be too careful." He pointed to the basket. "What's that?"

Carley exchanged an exasperated look with Ben. "We… uh…" She scratched the back of her head. "It was full of bread… but we kind of ate it all."

"You ate it all?" Kenny flinched as Lilly passed by him, her hands jammed in her pockets.

Carley and Ben glanced down at asphalt in synch with equally guilty stares. Carley gripped the basket behind her back, almost as if trying to hide the evidence. "We had planned to share, but we were just so hungry one roll turned to three to half the basket…"

"And then it was empty," Ben finished, bashfully prodding loose pebbles in the pavement with his toe. "Sorry…"

Carley and Kenny, aware of Lilly's tendency to flip out over nothing, visibly tensed to better brace themselves for the coming storm. Instead, much to their relief, she just pinched the bridge of her nose in frustration. "Fantastic. Can't trust you guys with anything…"

"Especially batteries," Doug remarked in the back of Carley's mind. She ignored him.

Kenny's brow furrowed. "Unimportant matters aside till later; how's the farm lookin'?"

At the mention of the first protected haven in months Carley and Ben brightened. Carley was the first to respond, practically ecstatic that there was a safe place for them for the first time in months. "It's great! They have an electric fence that keeps out Walkers, hundreds of acres for food, and some cattle for meat and milk! They said that we can stay as long as we like, and in trade we have to help them out."

"We'll have to judge whether it really is safe or not," Lilly stated tonelessly, pointing to herself than Kenny. "It has to be protected enough for the kids. But if it seems nice enough right now, we'll round up the group and head up right away." One hand rose to her hip. "And since you two have already had your fill, you and Ben can guard the Inn while we're gone!"

Carley groaned. "I'd like to argue, but that sounds fair…"

"She's got the drop on you."

Shut the hell up, Doug.

"Glad we have an understanding." With that, she turned on her heel and sauntered back inside of the barrier walls. Kenny wagged his head but followed shortly after. Carley didn't move for a moment – she just stuck her tongue out and tromped after.

Ben stepped cautiously around the Walker splayed out on the pavement. His sapphire gaze connected with the bloody screwdriver in his best friend's grip; something clicked in his brain a split second later. "Oh… Are you alright Trav?"

Travis' glare was locked on the upper story of the motel. "Yeah. I'll be fine."

Ben glanced up to the room that Travis was looking at. "Laura?"

"I should get going," Travis said briskly, averting the subject. "I'll bring you back something from the farm tonight, OK?" Ben motioned to make a reply but Travis was already gone, disappearing through the barrier entrance.

Ben was abandoned to a dejected silence and Sarah Milton's rotting corpse.


Important Author's Note

Following the release of episode 5, my entire storyline as been altered... as such, it took me longer to get this posted than intendended. Also, there's a higher chance that this story will now be pairingless. Thank you being patient! And thanks for reading and for the all the reviews so far! You guys are awesome! ^_^ Leave a review if you enjoyed/want to comment/have a question/etc.